This election, Americans will once again show their support for marijuana legalization
Millions of Americans will head to the polls in the coming days and cast votes on whether or not to legalize the use of marijuana in their states. If past is precedent, most — if not all — of these statewide ballot measures will be enacted into law.
Beginning with California in 1996, voters in multiple jurisdictions nationwide have voted well over two-dozen times on Election Day in favor of marijuana legalization measures.
Currently, 34 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books regulating the production and dispensing of medical cannabis to qualified patients. Eleven of these states — encompassing one-quarter of the U.S. population — also have legalized the possession and use of marijuana by anyone over the age of 21. In nine of these 11 states, adult-use legalization measures were enacted by a direct vote of people. About half of all statewide medical cannabis laws were enacted via voter initiative.
This long and consistent history of success at the ballot box should hardly be surprising. According to nationwide polling data compiled by Gallup, two-thirds of Americans — including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — believe that marijuana consumption by adults ought to be legal in the United States. On the issue of legalizing cannabis for medical use, support is even stronger. National polling data compiled by Quinnipiac University found that 91 percent of voters believe that adults should access and use medical marijuana when their physician authorizes it.
Despite this public consensus, elected officials have far too often remained unresponsive to the legalization issue. With only a handful of exceptions — think Illinois and Vermont — rarely are they willing to expend the political capital necessary to advance the issue legislatively, particularly with respect to legalizing the adult-use marijuana market. This dereliction of duty has forced advocacy groups to directly place the marijuana-related ballot question before the voters — something they have now done successfully in every election dating back over two decades.
Tellingly, voters’ have yet to express any buyers’ remorse following their decisions. To date, no state that has legalized cannabis for either therapeutic use or for adult-use purposes has ever repealed their law. According to available polls, voters residing in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal consistently report that legalization has been a “success” in their state and that the regulated marijuana market is preferable to criminalization. In many of those states that initially legalized cannabis for medical purposes only, the electorate later voted to expand these regulatory schemes to include all adults.
This election, voters in four additional states — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota — will weigh in on whether to legalize marijuana use and sales for adults, while two states — Mississippi and South Dakota — will decide on the issue of medical use. In each of these states, initial polls show solid support among voters for these ballot measures — despite, in some cases, the expressed opposition of those in positions of leadership.
For example, as of this writing, Proposition 207 in Arizona holds a percentage lead of nearly 20 points among likely voters — much to the chagrin of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has spoken out staunchly against it, while New Jersey’s Question 1 holds a 3 to 1 lead with likely voters. In South Dakota, internal polling compiled by a group opposed to legalization acknowledged majority support among voters for both initiative efforts — with some 70 percent of South Dakotans supporting medicalization and roughly 60 percent backing full legalization. This support comes despite public statements by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem opposing both efforts.
Of course, voters have been consistently defying their elected officials on this issue for over two decades and, no doubt, most will do so again in November. Ideally, though, these ballot campaign efforts should no longer be necessary. The public has spoken loudly and clearly: they favor jettisoning the failed policies of marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a policy of legalization, regulation, taxation, and public education. Their elected officials — at both the state and federal level — ought to be listening.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and he is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” He is also the Cahir of the Science Department at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California.
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